Because They Kept Marching, America Changed

“The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency. Whether it’s by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all in the criminal justice system and not simply a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails – it requires vigilance.”  

Those were the words of our President at the “Let Freedom Ring” Ceremony commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.  Other speakers, including President Bill Clinton and Rep. John Lewis, also spoke about a need to reshape our criminal justice policies and address the racial disparity in employment.
There is a tremendous alignment of forces coming together right now with influential people realizing that they might use their power to address economic and racial disparity (powerful coalitions such as Opportunity Nation) and incredibly sophisticated community organizers helping to develop a new generation of youth leaders.

There are three things that need to be in place to turn this alignment into action:
First, we need to get our messages straight.  As a country we know about the graduation rate but we don’t know about the youth unemployment crisis that is leaving young adults and their children behind. We need strong messages, repeated over and over, and the data and stories to penetrate the heart of America.
Second, we need to have the courage to demand action even when it is not clear how to get jobs for young people when they are competing with older generations for jobs. We may not have the answers right now, but by generating tension– a creative tension– new ideas will be created, or old ones will be brought out of the closet.  Certainly, national service might be just what we need right now to address this crisis.
Third, we need to get our comfortable shoes out of the closet and start marching.  Seriously, we aren’t going to get the attention of the nation with well- designed bill boards, email petitions, or letters to the editor. We need all that and more. We need to become a force that cannot be ignored. We have a huge asset in our young people. Let’s walk with them, let’s listen to their stories, let’s turn to their leadership and vision to help us figure this out.

What does this mean? It’s time to come together in one place or in many places around the country on one day in 2014 so that the crisis facing our young people and our country cannot be ignored. What we need is a set of organizations to step up to the plate and say they are going to create a day of action. With just the right amount of direction we can march to change our future and the future of our young people in cities all across our nation.